WASHINGTON – Americans' approval of President Bush's (search) handling of Iraq is at its lowest level yet, according to an AP-Ipsos poll that also found fewer than half now think he's honest.
A solid majority still see Bush as a strong and likable leader, though the president's confidence is seen as arrogance by a growing number.
Approval of Bush's handling of Iraq (search), which had been hovering in the low- to mid-40s most of the year, dipped to 38 percent. Midwesterners and young women and men with a high school education or less were most likely to abandon Bush on his handling of Iraq in the last six months.
American troops have suffered heavy casualties in Iraq in recent days. On Wednesday, 14 Marines were killed in the Euphrates River valley (search) in the worst roadside bombing targeting Americans since the war began in March 2003.
William Anderson, a retired Republican from Fort Worth, Texas, said Bush "has the right intentions, but he's going about them the wrong way."
"Iraq is one of the issues that everybody has a problem with," Anderson said. "There are some big discussions about it around town. Everybody's got their agreements and disagreements. It seems like there's no end. Is it going to end up another Vietnam?"
Continuing worries about Iraq may do more than drag down Bush's standing with the public. They could become a major issue in the 2006 midterm congressional races, and if the war is still going in 2008, they could be a factor in the presidential race.
Bush's overall job approval was at 42 percent, with 55 percent disapproving. That's about where Bush's approval has been all summer but slightly lower than at the beginning of the year.
The portion of people who consider Bush honest has dropped slightly from January, when 53 percent described him that way while 45 percent did not. Now, people are just about evenly split on that issue — with 48 percent saying he's honest and 50 percent saying he's not.
The drop in the number of people who see Bush as honest was strongest among middle-aged Americans as well as suburban women, a key voting group in the 2004 election. A further erosion of trust could make it tougher for Bush to win support for his policies in Congress and internationally.
"The reason that trust is so important has to do with the long-standing belief that you could trust him, even if you don't always agree with him and don't understand what he's doing," said Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University of Texas. "The honesty dip is partly caused by a loss of faith in his credibility on Iraq."
The president said Thursday from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, that threats from Al Qaeda's No. 2, Aymen al-Zawahri (search), "make it clear that Iraq is a part of this war on terror, and we're at war." Bush pledged to "complete this job in Iraq."
Almost two-thirds in the poll described Bush as strong and likable.
"He's a man of character," said Cheryl Cheyney, a school bus driver from Cumming, Ga., and a Republican. "He's very honest in the things he says. I agree with his belief system, the way he believes in God and is not afraid to show it. That's very important to me."
But the portion of people who view his confidence as arrogance has increased from 49 percent in January to 56 percent now.
"This country is a monarchy," said Charles Nuutinen, a 62-year-old independent from Greenville, Wis. "He's turning this country into Saudi Arabia. He does what he wants. He doesn't care what the people want."
Six in 10 said they think the country is headed down the wrong track, despite some encouraging economic news in recent weeks.
"Iraq is just a great weight holding down perceptions of an economy that is quite robust," said Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. "Whenever you have troops in harm's way, people are anxious about things in general."
The poll of 1,000 adults was conducted Aug. 1-3 by Ipsos, an international polling firm. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.